She never learns where Elena obtained the
photographs; in the greater scheme of things it simply doesn't
matter. Squatting on the ground, chains around her ankles
leaving her flesh raw for tropical parasites, Irina has better things
to contemplate than the bureaucratic inability to discard even the most
minor records: for one thing, there is the possibility that she will
die here. Probability, she would say, but Elena is not wholly
rational and this makes her unpredictable.
"Do you remember that day?" Elena asks. She's sitting next to Irina, an arm around her shoulders; it would almost certainly a mistake to allow herself to shudder, Irina thinks. "How proud of you we were, even Papushka. And how pretty you looked."
She does remember that day, in fact, how hard it was to look somber and impressed as she shook hands with a range of men too important to have titles, and how relieved she was that it was a bright day in their father's slide into madness. And then they were rushed off to a studio, just Elena and her, for the first in a series of photograph sessions. She must have looked confused; one of the dressers had patted her hand and said, "Americans take photographs too, you know." Elena made a face behind the woman's back: don't embarrass me by being an idiot, it meant. But Elena had been quiet when they saw the dress as well: yards and yards of pale yellow chiffon and satin, something for a fairy-tale princess. "A prom dress," the woman explained, using the English word, and following it up with a lecture on consumerism and the wasteful habits of young Americans. "But you're the right age, and you may need such a photograph for your cover. Sit down and we will fix your hair."
She remembers Elena's face as she stood in front of the screen, how her mouth was set in a hard line. Jealousy, she thought, and smiled even wider. She wonders now what might have happened if she'd told Elena how uncomfortable the dress was, scratchy and false against her skin, how the makeup itched and the pins dug into her scalp. Would she be here now, insects buzzing in her ears and mud caked on her skin, if she hadn't gloried in that moment, that day she finally surpassed her sister? Elena likes to pretend that only sisterly affection makes her let Irina out of her underground cell, sometimes that only that affection keeps Irina alive. Love or jealousy, destiny or their family madness: like the photographs, in the greater scheme of things it doesn't matter why she's here, only how she can survive. She smiles and leans her head against Elena's shoulder.
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Written to a challenge by yahtzee. Alias is owned by JJ Abrams, Bad Robot Production, and ABC. No copyright infringement intended, and no profit made. Original story elements my own.